Cover Story

Breaking Down Borders

Despite the phenomenal economic growth Bangladesh has achieved, a large number of Bangladeshi citizens are moving to other countries, even at the cost of risking their lives.

By Sabria Chowdhury Balland | January 2022

In 1947, hundreds of thousands of people in India from threatened minorities moved to what they perceived as a place of refuge. The Radcliffe Line was the boundary demarcation line between the Indian and Pakistani portions of the Punjab and Bengal provinces of British India. As the British empire left the subcontinent, an estimated 200,000 to 1.5 million people were killed in communal violence associated with the Partition and 10 million to 15 million people were forcibly displaced.

As a result, East Bengal was affected by considerable refugee flows after the 1947 Partition of India and in December 1971, East Pakistan was separated from West Pakistan and became the newly independent state of Bangladesh.

To this day, there continues to be a very considerable Diaspora of sub-continental people internationally, people moving to other countries in search of greener pastures. Many even tend to travel through unsafe channels to illegally gain access to foreign countries. A valid question would be to ask whether the migration phase of the subcontinent still continues.

Focus on Bangladesh

Soon after the creation of Bangladesh , in a meeting between officials of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger labelled Bangladesh a “basket case”. Years of economic inequality between West and East Pakistan, the 1970 cyclone in Bhola and the months-long unrest before the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate state left 70% of Bangladeshi population below the poverty line. In the 50 years since its birth, it is undeniable that Bangladesh, a small South Asian nation of over 167 million people, has made very significant advancements. The country has successfully tackled infant mortality, economic backwardness and gender inequality. Today, it has a booming economy, well on track to graduating from the United Nations’ least developed countries category, far outshining India and Pakistan, the two countries it was historically a part of.

Given that the economic outlook for Bangladesh is so positive, there are still many Bangladeshis who move to other countries, many even willing to risk their lives in the migration process.

According to Relief Web, a humanitarian information service provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Bangladesh is the sixth largest origin country for international migrants in the world, with 7.8 million Bangladeshi migrants living abroad as of 2019.

Over 2.2 million people join the Bangladeshi job market each year, but the domestic labour market is unable to provide employment to all these individuals. Therefore, many migrate internationally to secure employment and send remittances home, which are used to repay loans and to support migrant families.

The vast majority of the Bangladeshi labour force (8 million) working abroad is in the Middle East. Of course, there are those families who have been settled in Europe, particularly the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, etc. for decades and many students who leave the country to pursue higher studies in developed countries. Upon graduation, should these students be offered jobs, it would be rare for them to refuse employment and return home to Bangladesh.

The most astonishing group of migrants are those which take grave risks to reach the US or Europe. Bangladesh remains the number one country for illegal migrants into Europe. In the decade since 2009, a sum of 62, 583 Bangladeshis have entered Europe illegally and irregularly using nine different routes, risking their lives.

There is no war going on in Bangladesh. Economically, the country is referred to as the rising “Asian Tiger” and is well on its way to joining the other four Asian tigers, namely Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. However, the question arises as why the migrations out of Bangladesh?

The three main reasons and motivations Bangladeshis give for migration are to evade poverty, underemployment and unemployment.

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The writer is a political analyst focusing on the politics of the U.S. and Bangladesh in international publications. A former elected member of the US Democratic Party overseas, she is the Editor-in-Chief of Aequitas Review. She can be reached at

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